People love a good PR disaster. As if there were a bright red beacon attached to your brand, a company can find itself attracting unwanted attention faster than a blink of an eye. As of late, the cruise industry has been under this kind of extreme scrutiny following a rash of public relations nightmares across a number of cruise lines.
The industry reputation has gotten so bad that, when I told friends and relatives that I had a cruise booked in May, they visibly cringed and asked me if I regretted my choice of vacations.
To be honest, I wasn’t worried. The risk of an accident or mishap is just as likely – if not more so, on any alternative vacation I might consider. The difference in this case? Negative publicity.
Combating such unfavorable word-of-mouth can be like pushing a boulder uphill if you’re constantly doing damage control. It’s impossible to get ahead of the bad news. While this may be mitigated by a solid crisis communication plan, a healthy dose of positive human interest stories can go a long way in countering a tarnished image. Sure, they might not always be as sensational as an accident, but it helps soften the brand image and provide fresh stories for the newsroom other than crisis updates.
Don’t think there is any good news to come out of the cruise industry? Think again.
I just returned from my cruise last week – yes, a Carnival cruise, and contrary to the expectations of my friends and family, had a great time. No, we didn’t lose power or run aground or any sort of mishap, but I did experience what could have been a newsworthy and positive PR opportunity for the brand.
In fact, we were a party to a daring rescue at sea!
During our second day, the 110,000-ton Carnival Valor ground to a halt in the middle of the ocean to pick up some fishermen from Dominica who had been stranded for four days without food or water after their tiny boat broke down. I’m no nautical genius, but I’m fairly certain that had we not been cruising by at the right place or the right time, these men may never have returned home.
After speaking with a few ship employees, I came to learn that this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence -- in fact, the very ship we were on had picked up stranded fishermen earlier this year. Even if something of this sort does happen on a quarterly basis, it takes no time for the ship videographer to snap some video of the rescue and upload to the corporate PR department to distribute out to national news outlets.
People like happy endings. Who cares if maritime law mandates that you have to stop for a stranded vessel? It’s still good fortune that Carnival was able to lend assistance when they were needed, and they should shout it from the rooftops.
It’s unfortunate that the day after I returned from my own cruise, news broke of a Royal Caribbean ship that had caught fire at sea, inciting another wave of negative press lamenting the state of the industry. If only these giants could capitalize on the positive news like what I witnessed firsthand, the blow might not be so hard.